First, some well deserved praise for public transportation.
A little plastic square called the OV-chipkaart is the golden ticket of Netherlands travel. The little card allows its holder to take public transportation in any Dutch city as well as hop on and off intercity trains. Just wave the magic piece of plastic next to a card reader on your chosen mode of transport, wait for the beep, jump on, repeat the wave at your destination, and the cost of the trip is automatically deducted from the card’s balance. Cardholders can move about faster than Charlie and Wonka in the glass elevator. No more separate tickets for the bus, the metro, the tram, and the train. No more worries about traffic or parking the car. Just decide on a destination and walk to the tram stop that is never more than a few blocks in any direction.
Trams are far, far superior to busses or even subway trains. Trams provide the smooth transportation of a train with the scenery of a bus. They glide past imposing statues, between the brick buildings and over the canals. Their rails split traffic, eliminating the wait for confused drivers or slow cars. Pedestrians and cyclists veer away from the tracks whenever they hear the low hum of an approaching tram, forming a bubble of space around each tram that closes as soon as the last car moves past. Americans who step onto a tram in The Hague experience childlike wonder that public transportation can be so efficient, comfortable, and convenient. If only they knew about the magic chipkaart.
Dutch cuisine consists of many varieties of two things: meat and potatoes. Cheese is side or topping of choice. Vegetables are, at most, an afterthought. They sit quietly at the far corner of a plate, usually something like a dejected pile of iceberg lettuce and carrots. Waiters joke about failure to consume a salad, then everybody shares a laugh as the poor legumes are tossed into the trash. This culinary state of things is comforting to someone raised in the midwest United States.
One particularly wonderful Dutch food is called ‘bitterballen.’ Served as an appetizer or snack with after work drinks, these gumball sized spheres are lightly fried, golden-brown orbs dusted with breadcrumbs, filled with a roux of veal, beef broth, and butter, and served with honey mustard. Just before you eat them for the first time, there is a moment of hesitation, but, once past the whole “what do you mean this is deep-fried meat gravy” thing, pure bliss awaits. On Friday afternoon, hundreds of locals sit outside at restaurants around the Binnehof, drinking beer, eating bitterballen, enjoying the sunny weather, and looking thouroughly content with life.
¤¤¤¤¤In Amsterdam, there is a restaurant worth a 90 minute wait, Cafe de Klos. The small, one room eatery is down a side street in the city’s central district. A long wooden bar forms the center of the room. Around the bar are wood paneled walls, wooden booths without any cushions, oil paintings of seventeenth century naval battles, and stained glass windows depicting the golden age of the Dutch republic. The menu is simple and written on the front of each employee’s shirt. Each entry is a different form of grilled meat. Chicken, ribs, prime rib, and steaks of all different types. Entrees rest on solid, black wooden cutting boards instead of plates. Sides come in two forms: no side or a baked potato soaked in garlic butter. The potatoes come on separate silver plates with small ledges to keep the excess garlic butter from sloshing about and dripping onto the table. However, the ledges are too small (because, of course, there is no such thing as too much garlic butter) and drops of butter sit scattered about after the meal. Thus, as soon as the cutting boards are taken away, a waiver swoops by with a wet sponge to clean up the aftermath.